City likely to fail any legal challenge over Chateau Laurier addition: memo

The proposed addition to the Château Laurier.
Editor's Note

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the remarks contained in the city's memo.

The City of Ottawa’s city clerk said in a memo Friday that a pending motion for city council to rescind its approval of the controversial addition to the Château Laurier would likely land the municipality in court – a legal battle Ottawa is likely to lose.

A memo sent by Rick O'Connor, the city's city clerk and solicitor, ahead of a looming battle set for the July 10 city council meeting. In front of councillors is a proposal to withdraw an approved heritage permit for the Château Laurier’s seven-storey addition. The controversial extension has received backlash from members of the public that fear the box-like addition – which would add 147 suites to the hotel – would ruin views of the much-loved heritage structure.

Last year, however, council approved a heritage permit for the extension provided it meets specific conditions, including changes to the design to make the addition more “compatible” with the existing structure.

After Château Laurier owner Larco Investments received site plan approval on the addition last month, some advocates feared the battle to stop the impending development was over. But some councillors, motivated by fervent constituents, have mustered a final attempt to rescind council’s approval.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, with the support of Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, announced last week he had filed a notice of motion that would see council deem Larco Investments’ proposed addition as unsatisfactory, based on the previously listed conditions. Council will need to see a two-thirds majority vote to debate Fleury’s motion on Wednesday.

O'Connor's memo proposes three likely scenarios should council send Larco back to the drawing board again, illustrating the bind council is in.

Firstly, Larco could accept council’s decision and submit another application, using either existing or fresh designs. Alternatively, the developer could seek minor variance or rezoning approval related to the heritage overlay and, if granted, could then apply for a building permit from the proper authorities. If that application is denied based on council's motion, Larco could appeal to the Ontario Superior Court. The memo notes that this approach would further delay construction, and therefore would not be Larco’s likely strategy.

O'Connor said in his memo that he believes the most likely response should council approve Fleury’s motion would be to seek the Superior Court’s declaration that the conditions set out in council’s 2018 decision have been fulfilled. Reminding councillors that city staff are in agreement that these original conditions are satisfied, O'Connor writes that Larco will likely succeed in its legal challenge.

If the city goes down this route, the costs for outside legal expertise will likely run the city some $100,000, according to the memo, plus as much as $50,000 should the city lose in court and be forced to pay Larco’s legal fees. In the event of an appeal, the cost could rise another $100,000.